I love water.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved getting in water, which is honestly a little weird with all my childhood ear infections. Granted I was always careful with my ears, and avoided diving. Pressure of any kind still gives me difficulty, particularly in the ear that was operated on when I was young. (Short version of the story, don’t put tubes in your kid’s ears no matter how frequently they get ear infections.) I also tend to get them dry as soon as possible after swimming or bathing; wetness in my ears is a sensation that I have more or less been conditioned to fear and avoid.
I played in the ocean often growing up because I spent my summers with family in Southern California. And although I’m cautious about the ocean, there is something so comforting about being in the surf and feeling the water on my skin. (I had a very scary experience when I was little when strong currents pulled me over while I was boogie boarding and as I came up for air, I came up under the board itself. By the time I righted myself, I was very far along the beach from where I had been as well, by a full lifeguard station.) Living in a landlocked state, however, my access to the ocean is getting pretty rare these days. There are plenty of rivers and lakes in our wilderness but depending on where you are, the water can be pretty damn cold; the Uintah watersheds are glacial during the months when they aren’t frozen solid. The streams in Southern Utah aren’t so bad, and even when cool are blissful most months of the year.
But in this desert, most of my contact with water is showers and baths. (You have to drive a bit to get to most nice places with water, and we are cold/high enough that this time of year, everywhere you could go is covered in snow.) Hot water is its own joy. You remember the bit in Fellowship of the Ring (book, not the movie) where the hobbits had arrived in Crickhollow? I always agreed with their opinions of hot water:
Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!
O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.
O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down our back.
O! Water is fair and leaps on high
is a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!
The line about cold drinks plus hot water has always resonated with me as well. Even as a young girl, I was enraptured at the juxtaposition between very hot and very cold at the same time. I loved to get a very cold glass of water before getting in a bath; there was something about feeling the cold trickle down my throat as heat soaked into my flesh that was simply magical. (Side note: Thrack seems disconcerted by how much of my worldview growing up was “magical.” I had lots of interest in science, and I suppose I don’t mean magical, precisely, but it’s the only word that fits with the sense of awe with which I approached even ordinary things like tree roots in the forest.)
I enjoyed strong juxtapositions in temperatures in other ways as well. There is a pool attached to the lodge at Sun Valley that is (I believe) partly fed by hot springs. It is warm and steamy regardless of the time of year and open to the sky. I was enchanted by the way I could float on my back during winter nights and watch the steam curl up into the stars, sometimes with snow falling lightly on my face. To pull icy cold air into my lungs as the rest of my body held languorous warmth was a sensation that almost defied description.
I believe my affinity for water is somewhat irrational, honestly. Because I have found over the years that when I don’t feel good, I can make myself feel better simply getting wet (seriously). It’s a hell of weird placebo effect, but it has always worked. Headache? Take a bath. Nausea? Take a bath. Stuffy with a sore throat? Take a bath. Fever and chills? Take a bath. Feeling sad or frustrated? Same deal. Some of the things make sense as to why there would be a beneficial effect: warm soaking to remove muscle aches and cramps, steam for inflamed sinuses and lungs, etc. But the fact of the matter is I feel better about everything simply by getting my skin wet. I’m sure there is a complicated medical term for this sort of psychological effect, but I’ve always approached it with a don’t knock it, it works sort of attitude.
Which brings us to why all this came to mind. I’ve been feeling awful for the last few days and am very close to losing my voice right now. So I hope you don’t mind, but I’m off to take a bath.